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Windows 10 editions: Everything you need to know


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Summary:Microsoft's announcement of how it plans to package Windows 10 is yet another case where the lawyers and marketers turned a simple story into gibberish. Here's the spin-free version.

By Ed Bott for The Ed Bott Report | May 14, 2015 -- 11:02 GMT (04:02 PDT)

Yesterday, Microsoft announced how it plans to package Windows 10.

There's actually a simple, straightforward story to tell there. Unfortunately, the company decided not to tell that story. Instead, they published a meandering blog post listing the final lineup of Windows 10 editions in a more or less random order and surrounding each one with a big blob of marketing-speak instead of a crisp description.

The result, of course, is a predictable chorus of "HA HA" from the tech press: "There goes stupid old Microsoft again, making things too complicated."


I blame the lawyers. Every time the discussion turns to anything close to licensing, they bury it in ... fertilizer.

But just as I read license agreements so you don't have to, I read yesterday's Windows 10 announcements from Microsoft, removed the marketing gibberish and legalese, and translated the resulting news into plain English.

If you want the short version, just read the bold sentences that follow. But if you're charged with writing about this stuff, please read the details under each one. There will be a test for my fellow tech journalists.

Microsoft announced its lineup of Windows 10 editions yesterday.

All of the editions share common features, but are sold and distributed differently depending on the type of device for which they're intended.

All Windows 10 devices share a single Windows Store, which offers access to Universal Windows Apps capable of running on devices of many different sizes.

Microsoft announced Windows 10 editions, not SKUs.

Several people, including my colleague Mary-Jo Foley, used the terms edition and SKU interchangeably in coverage yesterday. That's a common shorthand, and good enough for a casual discussion, but there are actually some important distinctions between the two terms.

SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit, which is the part number a manufacturer assigns to specific items it sells. A single product, like Windows 8.1 Pro, is sold in many different packages, each with its own SKU. The 32-bit OEM System Builder one-license package has its own SKU, which is different from the 64-bit package, which is different from the Open Value License 5-pack SKU, which is different from... Well, you get the idea.

If you want a copy of Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit for OEM System Builders, search for FQC-06950 and place your order. The Windows 8.1 Pro Open Value upgrade license SKU is FQC-08190, and the Microsoft Get Genuine Kit for Windows 8.1 Pro is FQC-08147.

Same product. Same edition. Different SKUs. Eventually, Microsoft will publish the full list of SKUs for Windows 10, and it will go on for page after page...

This isn't unusual in the computing industry. Apple, for example, has only two iPhone 6 models, but there's a different SKU for every combination of storage, color, and carrier for each one, making for literally dozens of SKUs for the iPhone 6 Plus in North America alone.

Microsoft announced editions, not SKUs. And the lineup is actually pretty straightforward.

There are two and only two editions of Windows 10 for installation on new PCs.

Large and small OEMs who build new PCs, including desktops, all-in-ones, hybrids, 2-in-1s, and full-size tablets, will be able to purchase one of two Windows 10 editions for installation on those devices.

  • Windows 10 Home is the cheaper option. It includes the entire Windows 10 feature set, minus a handful of features reserved for the Pro edition. OEMs commonly install this edition on devices aimed at the price-conscious consumer and small business markets.
  • Windows 10 Pro is typically found on higher-quality, higher-spec business-class devices. It costs more and includes a group of features that enthusiasts, professionals, and anyone on a Windows business network will appreciate: Hyper-V virtualization, BitLocker encryption, the ability to set up a PC as a Remote Desktop server, and the ability to join a Windows domain are the key ones.
I can hear some commenters already: "You forgot Windows Enterprise!"

No I didn't. An OEM cannot install a Windows Enterprise edition on a new PC. That edition is an upgrade only.

Businesses must purchase a Pro license on a new PC to qualify for the Windows 10 Enterprise upgrade. A Home license does not qualify for an Enterprise upgrade. Yes, that means a business has to pay for two fairly expensive licenses for a PC running Windows Enterprise edition. I'll buy a drink for the first one of my friends in the tech press who mentions this distinction between the Home and Pro editions the next time they write about this topic.

Both the Home and Pro editions will be available to large OEMs as soon as Windows 10 is released. Microsoft declined to comment when I asked about their plans to distribute OEM System Builder versions of these two Windows 10 editions.

Two and only two editions of Windows 10 will be available for distribution as free upgrades on existing PCs.

Consumers and small businesses who have PCs running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 will be offered a free online upgrade to Windows 10.
  • Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 8.1 systems will receive an upgrade to Windows 10 Home.
  • Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Windows 8.1 Pro systems will be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.
Microsoft has not yet disclosed whether and how it plans to offer Windows 10 for upgraders who prefer physical installation media or who have PCs running Windows Vista, which doesn't qualify for the free Windows 10 upgrade. Likewise, the company has so far declined to discuss how it plans to offer Windows 10 for enthusiasts building their own PCs.

There is one and only one edition of Windows 10 available for sale on new mobile devices.

Device makers building smartphones and small tablets (screen size less than 8 inches) will be able to install Windows 10 Mobile on those devices, assuming they meet the hardware requirements. These devices are not PCs. They typically use an ARM processor or one of the new Intel Atom x3 SoC designs (code-named Sofia).

It is extremely unlikely that Microsoft will offer Windows 10 Mobile as a standalone software product. It will almost certainly be available only on new phones and phablets.

Mobile devices running Windows Phone 8.1 will be offered Windows 10 Mobile as a free upgrade.

Windows 10 Mobile will be available as an over-the-air upgrade, subject to carrier approval, a process that can be tedious and frustrating. Microsoft has announced it will continue its Insider program after the initial public release of Windows 10 Mobile, so it should be possible for owners of Windows Phone 8.1 devices to upgrade via that route as well. The quickest path to an upgrade? Sign up for the Insider program as soon as Windows 10 Mobile is released, install the current edition, and then turn off Preview builds.

Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise will be available as upgrades, primarily for large businesses.

Large organizations who have Volume License contracts with Microsoft, including businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits, will be able to install Windows 10 Enterprise on devices that already have a qualifying Windows 10 license.

The Enterprise upgrade gives the business a number of additional features and licensing rights that are important in large organizations on managed Windows networks.

Large enterprises can create private sites in the Windows Store, where employees can sign in and choose from a list of approved apps, with administrators being able to manage app licenses in a straightforward fashion.
  • Windows 10 Enterprise is for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, with separate SKUs for each one. The upgrade requires that the device on which it's installed already has a license for a Windows business edition.
  • Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise is a completely new offering. Microsoft's description of what's included is vague, but if it follows the normal Enterprise model, it will include security and management options as well as business usage rights (for Office apps, for example) that are not normally included on a mobile device running Windows.
Large educational institutions have their own Enterprise edition of Windows 10.

Windows 10 Education is the Volume License option for educational institutions. These customers typically pay much less than their business counterparts, while still getting the same Enterprise features and rights. Another crucial difference: Windows Home editions qualify for Volume License upgrades at educational institutions, which helps keep overall costs down.

Yes, there are some oddball editions as well.

For Windows 10, Microsoft will release Windows 10 editions designed for use on ATMs, point of sale devices, and industrial robots. You as a consumer will not care that your bank's ATM runs some weird embedded edition of Windows. The only time you will notice is when it crashes (rarely, one hopes) and someone is there to snap a picture of the error message and post it to Twitter.

There is also a Windows 10 IoT Core edition coming at some point. Again, you will neither know nor care that a device is running this edition of Windows unless something goes wrong.

That's the story Microsoft should have told yesterday.